Updated 

HELCO pauses geothermal expansion


Hawaii Electric Light Co. put its effort to expand geothermal power on the Big Island on hold after its independent observer criticized the utility for lacking sufficient planning.

The island’s electricity provider, in response to a recommendation from the Boston Pacific Company, decided to wait until its Power Supply Improvement Plan is completed before continuing its process for seeking up to 50 megawatts of additional geothermal power. That plan is expected to be complete by April 21.

In a letter to the state Public Utilities Commission, Boston Pacific, which the PUC assigned as the independent observer for the process, blamed continued delays on HELCO not conducting enough planning and “putting the cart before the horse.”

“We certainly understand the importance of efficiently completing an RFP (request for proposals),” Boston Pacific wrote in the Feb. 21 letter. “However, it does not benefit ratepayers if an RFP is conducted without first knowing whether there is a need for the project being solicited.”

The company said the process lacked an integrated resource plan that identifies a need and best resource alternatives.

“We feel that the Commission (PUC) made a sound recommendation in requiring HELCO to submit a Power Supply Improvement Plan that will hopefully provide answers to the concerns raised in the Decision and Order (in the Hu Honua docket),” the letter said. “Given this, we recommend that the Geothermal RFP be put on hold until the PSIP is completed…”

The document would address overall power supply issues, including the retirement of fossil fuel generation.

In its response letter, HELCO said it agrees it is typical for a resource plan to precede an RFP for power generation.

“However, the Geothermal RFP is not a typical RFP to the extent that the ‘need’ being sought … is not the need for additional resource capacity,” the utility said. “Rather, the ‘need’ being sought … is the need to significantly reduce the cost of electricity to its customers while maintaining Hawaii Electric Light’s system reliability.”

HELCO started the geothermal RFP process in February 2013 and initially expected to make a selection among six bidders as early as last September.

In late December, it announced it considered none of the bids to meet its cost-of-power and technical requirements and was planning on requesting more information from bidders.

Once it restarts the process, HELCO said in its letter it intends to modify the RFP to include a best-and-final-offer phase and revise operational and technical requirements, in addition to other changes.

In a statement to the Tribune-Herald, HELCO President Jay Ignacio said, “We are seeking low cost energy that also ensures reliability and also is sensitive to community and environmental concerns. We believe we can get that through a geothermal facility. Completing the Power Supply Improvement Plan will give us an opportunity to clarify for the PUC, the Independent Observer, and bidders what we are seeking with the RFP.”

Puna Geothermal Venture is the only existing geothermal power plant on the island. It provides up to 38 mgw.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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